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Deep Wounds in the Family
a sermon on David and Bathsheba, 2 Sam 11:1-15, 12:1-9
by Rev. Thomas Hall

emember those 18th century portraits that you’ve seen in museums? The people in the portraits always seem to be deep in reflection, approaching sainthood. Facial hairs are well-groomed and they’re dressed magnificently. A few even have their hands stuffed inside their coats like Napoleon. Their portrait may suggest they’re in their prime-but my guess is that they’re already retired. Another thing: where are the warts and bulbous snoz’s? The artist has smoothed wrinkles, straightened teeth, and replaced crossed-eyes with piercing vision. In the portrait, George Washington’s teeth may look like porcelain, but in real life they’re just your average stained, wooden teeth. Fact is, people have always wanted to be remembered in the best possible light.

I think most of us are the same way. What if MGM made a movie of your life and to sell the movie, they included your most embarrassing and humiliating sins in graphic detail! So next Sunday you read in the Parish News that a screening of your steamy life will be shown during refreshment hour! I’m not sure who would hang around to watch, but I know someone that would be suspiciously missing-you! You wouldn’t want to parade your failures, sins and faux pas. We want our best portrait in the viewing eye.

Did you know that we have two very different portraits of David’s life in the Bible? One is in 1st Chronicles. In that portrait, the story of David is recorded much like 17th century portraits-as a military hero, a Napoleonic conqueror, a spiritual national icon. No warts!

But the other portrait of David is in 2nd Samuel. This is the version is the stuff that movies are made of-for here we have a picture of David without his halo on, a man caught in his most sinful, humiliating sin. It is in 2 Samuel that we see a David who has an affair with a woman and then concocts an elaborate cover up. This is the MGM version of the man.

It’s spring. And you know what that means! It’s time for the armies to go out and beat on each other. So Israel’s army is out in the thick of battle. But not David. He should be. He is the military leader. Just his presence would encourage bravery among the troops, much like our President can boost the morale of our troops when facing battle. But David’s not with the troops. He’s back in Jerusalem-withdrawing from the action.

One writer suggests that his staying home is symptomatic of a leanness of soul. He seems to be pulling back from the fervent prayer and daring faith that has marked his life.

It’s dusk. And David is walking on his palace veranda and there sees a beautiful woman taking a bath. With each passing moment David craves what he sees. So he sends for his personal valet to find some information about her. And here’s what the valet says:

Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?

That’s a very telling statement! Normally, an Israelite would simply give the genealogy-"this is so and so, the daughter of so and so and the granddaughter of so and so." But did you catch what this valet is telling David? "This is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite." The valet is saying as plain as he can without losing his head, "David, the lady’s married."

No matter. She’s beautiful and he’s king. So he sends for her and takes her in his bed, then discards her and sends her home.

So where is Bathsheba’s husband during this affair? Uriah is off fighting in the army. About a month later Bathsheba discovers that she’s pregnant and lets David know it. Well, David, the master problem-solver, sends for and then gives her husband a month’s leave. He’s sure that Uriah and Bathsheba will solve the baby problem. But Uriah will not enjoy pleasure while his comrades are out on the battlefield risking their lives. So he sleeps in the servant’s quarters behind David’s palace. Next, he gets Uriah lushed on palace wine, but still Uriah will not go to Bathsheba. Now it’s time to panic! So in a final act of desperation, David sends Bathsheba’s husband to the battlefield with a letter for Joab, David’s military commander. "Put Uriah in the thickest part of the battle," orders David. Within the hour, Uriah is history-he’s no longer a threat. Bathsheba has barely finished mourning her husband’s death when David snatches her up to place in his wife collection.

What a gross portrait! That’s the story that you won’t find in 1 Chronicles-a story that’s been repeated over and over and over through the centuries. Have you noticed how "sin stories" after a while begin to sound pretty much alike? Seems most of sin swirls around the theme of wanting to be gods ourselves.

Fortunately, the gospel enters the story! Comes in the form of Nathan. Months later Pastor Nathan walks into David’s throne room with a story. David has no idea that he’s listening to a sermon; he’s not sitting in a pew and Nathan isn’t standing in a pulpit. But Nathan tells this story about a rich guy with large flocks of sheep but who arrogantly takes the pet lamb of a poor neighbor’s family down the road and then kills it and serves this pet up as the main entrée to his guests.

David is drawn into the story; he is outraged that this man could do such a cruel thing and jumps up enraged and utters a death sentence on the rich man. Nathan, calmly gets up from the couch and walks over to him; looks him eyeball to eyeball and says, "You are that man!"

What a surprise! David is listening to his pastor preach a sermon about somebody else and getting all worked up about someone else’s sin! That’s a very common response, isn’t it? To get all lathered over someone else’s mess, but never ever thinking that perhaps we are in the same shape? That, in view of God, we’re all a bit warty in our portraits! "I wish old Jonesy could have heard your sermon, Pastor!" they say. Our culture is now pandering what has been called the new voyeurism in America. We can now sit back and through TV and videos can watch other people’s sins from a safe distance.

With each word in Nathan’s sermon, David becomes more incensed until finally he hears the gospel-You are the one. You! Up to this point it’s been somebody else’s sin. Now sin has become upfront and personal.

Maybe that’s what preachers are for-to bring us into focus in the story. This story is about us. You are the man; you are the woman. "It’s not my brother or my sister, but it’s me O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer."

Here’s how this story can help us. The gospel tells us who we really are: we’re created by God. Redeemed by God. Blessed by God. Provided for by God. Loved by God. Everytime we deny our true image of God, we sin. Everytime we decide to play god for awhile, we are the man/woman in that story. That’s what David did, he decided to become god for awhile.

More David, less God. The more David gets into the me-god character, the less visible God becomes. David acts like a god to Bathsheba, pulling her into his orbit and making her dependent on him. He plays god to Joab, giving death commands, and plays god with Uriah by determining his fate.

A question: do you think David felt like he was a sinner when he was "in the act." I don’t think so. I think he actually felt godlike, fulfilled. "Oh no, what nonsense!" the serpent says, "you’ll not die, you’ll be like gods." David didn’t feel like a sinner when he made a move for Bathsheba, he felt like a lover. And when he sent for Uriah, he didn’t feel like a sinner, he felt like a king. Somewhere along the line he had withdrawn from worship and the adoration of God. And then he picked up the God character script for himself.

But God so loved that he sent Nathan who walked into the room that day and helped David recover an awareness of the real God. And that’s where Psalm 51 comes in. David’s psalm is a God-recovery psalm. Confronted with his sins, he admits his guilt and crumbles to the ground in repentance. The consequences of David’s actions will be heavy. He and his family will suffer deep wounds, but he gets back on track by being honest about his life. In return, he gets his soul back from God’s laundry scrubbed clean from all guilt. David discovers once again that God never gives up on us. Our once-broken bones can dance again.

A closing caution. This story doesn’t encourage us to go around spelunking for sin. I’ve never met anyone whose sins are that interesting. Not a lot of variations to the sin theme. Most of ‘em are reruns-been there done that over and over and over. That’s why Psalm 51 has only four words to describe the landscape of sin. But it takes nineteen different verbs to describe how God forgives and cleanses the soul - because that’s where the real action is. That is, we have just a few ways to sin creatively but God has an infinite number of ways to forgive. Sinning doesn’t take much imagination, but forgiveness and salvation? Whoa!!!! God’s grace and forgiveness is fresh and original and surprising everytime it happens to us.

Communion this morning requires brutal honesty of us. God invites us to take off the mask - and to be honest to God. Don’t come before God with some unblemished, doctored-up portraits. Come without airs, without our religiosity and goodness. And say with me, "I am the man, I am the woman, merciful God, that has not loved you with our whole heart." Communion-Christ’s blood and body-are not for those of us who think we’ve got our act together; it’s for those of us who know that we desperately need God if we’re ever going to make it. It’s not my brother, nor my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, a standin’ in the need of prayer. Amen.